When I speak with other professors who work extensively in the classroom, we often find that we share many of the same challenges. Students’ lack of classroom participation in discussion and test anxiety are two of the most common. Many professors try to mitigate these issues through two time-honored pedagogical tactics: a participation grade and extra credit questions on tests. While both tactics can be effective, by applying concepts from gamification research I found a way to both enhance classroom participation and reduce test anxiety with one simple technique.
I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. After 10 years of teaching, I finally realize why students get so nervous about exams. It’s because taking an exam is a performance. It’s just like American Idol , when they are doing the first round of auditions. You can have great natural ability and sound terrific, but when the spotlight shines down as you stand in front of the judges and the TV cameras, can you make it happen?
Most faculty have seen test anxiety firsthand. It’s that hot, sweaty smell that lingers in a classroom after students have finished an exam. It’s that student who comes to the office to discuss an exam and can answer in detail questions missed on the exam. It’s the student who doesn’t follow directions on the exam or the one who selects the correct option but then regularly changes the answer. Test anxiety manifests itself in various ways and to varying degrees.